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Hawk Attack

November 23, 2010

I picked up seven new chickens last month. They are Faverolles, a French breed that was originally produced for the table. While the hens’ deep-keeled small breast is reportedly scrumptious, they are also good layers with a calm, friendly demeanor. They look pretty cute, too, with their lightly feathered feet and fluffy muffs and beards. They remind me of coiffed Quebecois bundled up for a winter stroll down Rue St. Jacques.

The six hens and one rooster were just two-months-old when I bought them. Faverolles are known to be docile to the point of being bullied in the hen house, so I knew I couldn’t combine them with my 17-hen flock of two-year-old heavy breed layers. I set them up with a mini hen house and divided the pen in two. A big bird would always find her way into the Faverolles area and peck them, so I decided to separate the big hen house into two sections and let the Favs have the pen all day while the big girls were free outside, with access to their nesting box. It’s always a good idea to make your livestock housing two or three times bigger than you think necessary, with more doors than you think you’ll require.

Everything was going well until this afternoon, when I heard the chickens sound the predator alarm from under the deck of our house. Punctuating the big girls’ alto chorus was a high-pitched shriek. I went outside and looked along the edge of the woods behind the hen house, scanning for coyote, fox or hawk and not seeing any. I turned and quickly surveyed the bare trees. I ran across the yard to check the duck house, and as I rounded the edge of the garden a big red-tailed hawk leaped up from beside the Faverolles’ fence and pumped its powerful wings, flying to a nearby locust tree. I looked for a rock and as I did the hawk flew deeper into the woods. Remembering a recent foot chase on the heels of a young coyote, which resulted in less visits, I thought I might similarly haze the hawk, if possible. I ran toward its tree, and it flew to another. I ran toward that tree, and it flew to another. Feeling rather foolish, I thought to give up, but I gave one last chase and it finally climbed high into the sky and soared over the marsh toward the ocean.

In all our little duet lasted minutes, if that. Running back to the yard, I passed the goat paddocks and the herd ran together in a tight little pack to greet me. Their ears were back, their hackles up and their tails stood at attention. Were they alarmed by the chickens’ distress, or simply frightened by me crashing around in the woods? Maybe it was a little of both, but I’ve noticed the goats, both does and bucks, are extremely good “pointers”. They don’t care about our ducks or chickens or even pigs, but they stand ossified like farmyard sculptures at the sight of a coyote and point to it. That little detail comes in handy because I can see the goats from inside the house, when coyotes usually approach.

I gave them a quick pet to let them know everything was copacetic, and I went to where the hawk had been when it took off. There I found the dead little body of the rooster Faverolles (yes, the singular has an “s” because it is named after a town.) He was right up against the wire fence, where the hawk must have discovered him and grabbed him by the head. I went back to my house to find my three-year-old cutting a foot-diameter hole in a deck slider screen. This is why I run everywhere. He was sad to hear the news, but I reminded him that it was a rooster and he seemed appeased.

I was happy that it was a rooster. I don’t want roosters around, unless I am in the business of getting some eggs to hatch out. They, like most dominant farm animals, have an eye for little people, and they will exploit any opportunity to demonstrate their dominance over a small child. I don’t like them following me around, either. Being stalked by a rooster is a creepy experience, because they are slow but very, very persistent.

I was also happy that I had opted to keep the Favs in the pen until they are bigger and hopefully smarter. These new chickens represent the beginnings of a replacement flock of layers, and they have some good laying ahead of them if I can keep them alive. The big girls hold only the promise of continued feed consumption coupled with declining laying rates. Some may end up being butchered as stewing hens, if I get a chance, but I have so many meat chickens in the freezer now it isn’t necessary. If we lose one here and there, so be it, but they seem to be getting on just fine without any roosters to protect them. I predict future problems with this hawk. It had a taste and will be back for more. I simply can’t eradicate all predators from my little farmyard, so good a good defense is required. Chickens like to make dust baths and they gravitate to the fence edge, where they also take naps. The easy solution is to place boards along the inside of the fence. We’re all out of boards, so I’ll have to get creative. With the little birds out of harm’s way, the hawk may get bold and go for a big bird, but we’ll have to wait and see how that plays out. Hopefully it doesn’t play out during Thanksgiving dinner.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lillian permalink
    March 2, 2011 7:36 am

    Very interesting , we’ve been having hawk problems, and might’ve lost a hen or two.
    the Hawk once had a fight with the one rooster, which is too big for the hawk to take off.
    I am glad I am not the only one who is freaked out by the rooster trying to attack me.
    He is really mean to my little girls too.

    • March 3, 2011 8:40 pm

      Hi, Lillian – I’ve never seen a battle between a hawk and rooster, but I have tried to pull a red tailed hawk off a chicken it had started to taste and it’s grip was incredibly strong! We’ve also had a hawk or two hanging around the property scouting for possible meals in recent weeks, but I don’t think they’ve taken any chickens. (I don’t count my chickens regularly.) I am happy to report we no longer have roosters. I felt they were too dangerous to have around my young son. They were delicious. If we want to produce some fertile eggs for layer replacement, craigslist seems to be the place to pick up a free rooster for a month-long stay. Good luck with your hawk problem. I haven’t found a good solution beyond being around to chase them off, but some people swear by plastic owls, hanging pie tins, and dangling strips of aluminum from cans.

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